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First Page: Unpublished Manuscript Historical

First Page: Unpublished Manuscript Historical

Welcome to First Page Sunday. Individual authors anonymously send a first page read and critiqued by the Dear Author community of authors, readers and industry others. Anyone is welcome to comment. You may comment anonymously. You can submit your own First Page using this form.

With the tip of her boot, the young woman scraped together a toe-high pile of snow and nudged it over a puddle of congealed blood. Half a dozen men and women in muddy aprons stood around the flagstoned area in front of a tall, narrow brick building, among them a youngster who was stirring the contents of a cauldron with a paddle-like spoon. Heated by a smoky wood fire, the mash inside the copper was steaming horizontally, as if the icy nor’westerly was the breath of a giant cooling his morning porridge. Through the open door, in the half-light, the bulky silhouette of a body dangling from chains fastened to the roof.
‘That looks like a job well done, Master Hallet,’ she said. ‘He was the last one to go before Christmas, wasn’t he?’
‘He was, m’lady. Now there’s only the roasting geese to do. We’ll leave them till next week, though.’ It was the oldest man who had answered, cap between red, calloused fingers. The young woman’s eyes flitted from the butcher’s massive shoulders to the ox’s corpse in the slaughterhouse.
‘Very well,’ she nodded, hugging herself in her double-breasted great coat. ‘Can you manage a dozen on Monday and another on Tuesday? One to go to each needy family on the estate, and the rest for the manor house. And I’ve brought you this, to cheer you at the plucking.’ She turned and produced two stoneware bottles from holsters strapped to her horse’s saddle. ‘Mrs Galbraith’s mirabelle brandy. But Jemmy, for the love of God, don’t tell her I took them. Not until you bring her the dead birds.’
‘Thank ‘ee kindly, m’lady, from all of us, I’m sure.’ The butcher returned her conspiratorial grin and took the bottles; the small group’s appreciation manifested itself as low murmur and a large cloud of breath. ‘Now, as for this one: will Mrs Galbraith be wanting the head and pluck, or Rafe Galbraith the horns and hide?’
He stepped aside and revealed the pale head of an ox, skinned and tongueless, stuck on a pike in the wall of the house. The remains of his windpipe and gullet were dangling below his chin, like the cambric bands of a priest’s collar.
She stared at it. Many people were finding it difficult, this autumn, to slaughter their animals with the same matter-of-factness as in previous years.
‘Dear Lord, Jemmy. He looks like a clergyman murdered in a Paris prison.’
‘Aye, we was jus’ sayin’ that,’ the butcher nodded, quelling two giggling lads with a stern glance. ‘Poor devils. But what do you expect from papists and Frenchies? Anyways, we was quick with him, merciful quick, which is more than –’
‘Father! Father! There’s a – oh, beg pardon, my lady!’ A boy of some eleven or twelve years came hurtling down the path that led up to Brading Downs. His cheeks were flushed, the air around his head a cloud of excitement. He doffed his cap and ducked his head towards the great-coated figure.
‘A coach coming down the Upper Road, m’lady,’ he now addressed himself to her. ‘Seb Adams spoke to Mr Johnson, ‘oo spoke to the skipper ‘oo brought the gen’leman over, and ‘ee says it’s ‘is lordship!’
She had been watching the boy with good-humoured expectation, but at this last, triumphant conjecture, the smile froze on her face.
‘Lord Arlington?’
Jemmy Hallett stopped kneading his cap. Frank Hallett stopped stirring the blood pudding. The only movement seemed to be the boy’s heaving chest and the swirls of breath moving in the air.
‘Where was the coach when you saw it, Georgie?’
‘Going past the Grove, m’ lady. And going fast, so –’
‘Give me a hand, Jemmy, please.’
The butcher sprang into action and linked his fingers while she was already reaching for the reins and pommel. She was up in one swift leap, leaving a spray of earth and snow and frozen blood behind her as she dug her heels into her horse’s sides.

First Page: Legal Tender Contemporary

First Page: Legal Tender Contemporary

Welcome to First Page Saturday. Individual authors anonymously send a first page read and critiqued by the Dear Author community of authors, readers and industry others. Anyone is welcome to comment. You may comment anonymously. You can submit your own First Page using this form.

I’d promised myself that I wouldn’t be nervous. I caught my reflection in the elevator’s pristine glass – it acted as a mirror and reminded me of my imperfections.

“Come on, Penelope you can do this.” I muttered the words under my breath and straightened the creases that had implanted themselves across the thighs of my almost too tight pencil skirt. I’d been promising myself I wouldn’t be the fall girl anymore. By what seemed some fluke of judgment from the Gods above, I had a job at one of the most prestigious law firms in the city. I felt certain my A minus average through law school had nothing to do with it, but I’d been assured by the firm’s senior partner they were quite particular and not just anyone could work here.

The lift pinged, and I took one last look at myself, buttoned my jacket and then thought again and unbuttoned it before stepping out of the lift into the lair of the litigation department.

I’d been assigned to work with Samuel Baxter, the firm’s newest partner. I’d been here just over twelve months, but this man’s reputation for eating and spitting out his juniors was legendary. An assignment to Samuel Baxter appeared tantamount to the Firm giving up on you and sending you on your way.

I couldn’t afford to be on my way. Period.

“I’m Mr Baxter’s new assistant, Penelope Smale.” I announced myself to the teenage receptionist who made fleeting eye contact.”

“I’ll let him know you’re here. Please take a seat.”

I felt like a client of the firm, and not one of the hundreds of employees who roamed between the twelve floors of the building emblazoned with the initials of Fleet, Tate & Baxter.

The reception area of this floor looked no different to those of every other I had visited. My swipe card hung from a lanyard around my neck, the Firm’s initials FTB running at regular white intervals through the blue.

“Mr Baxter will see you now,” the receptionist gave me a grim smile, “His office is down the hall, the last door on your right.”

Why did I feel as if I was walking toward my own execution?

Every step down the long corridor took me past the doors of fellow employees who I knew would be head down, frantically trying to find a way to work themselves up through the ranks to Associate and then the holy grail of partner.

The collegial atmosphere of working together as a team that I’d imagined while I fought my way to the top at law school seemed absent from the work culture of FTB, especially in the dog-eat-dog world of litigation.

Your future is dependent upon how you went on your last case. Do well and you’d get another great assignment. Fail, in the eyes of the Firm, not necessarily the eyes of the Court and you may as well pack your bags and get out of Dodge.
An assignment to Mr Baxter, however, had the effect of turbo-charging the process. I knocked on the door and waited. A small sheen of sweat had begun to form on my palms and I wiped them, out of habit, on the linen of my skirt.


I closed my eyes, took a deep breath and opened the door.

My heart pounded, the sound a drum beat in my ears.

“Miss Smale.”

“It’s Ms.” Oh, Lord why did I feel the need to correct him. I would have slapped myself except with my brain behaving like a fried hard drive, I could barely think.

He cocked one long dark eyebrow toward his jet black hair and locked eyes with me. The drum beat in my ears replaced in an instant with a rush I could only equate to the sudden moving of the tides “You’re late. I can’t abide tardiness.”

“I’m sorry, it won’t happen again.” What a jerk! It couldn’t have been more than a minute. I had no control over the number of staff that got on and off the lift between the ground floor and the twelfth.

“I’m pleased to hear that,” he leaned back in his chair, relaxing for a moment and displaying the taught lean body sheathed in the white of his business shirt. “Sit, Miss Smale.” He emphasized the word ‘Miss’ in a no-nonsense I’m-the-boss-and-I’ll-do-as-I-please manner. Everything about, this man should have put me on my guard. Instead he sucked me in, his voice clawing at some deep and carnal part of me that had been slumbering since my hideous breakup with Johnny. My reaction caught me off guard – my entire being torn between the impulse to run and the overwhelming desire to tear that pristine business shirt off him.